Cambridgeshire library services suddenly introduced charges for book reservations in June this year – they are £1 per book for books between Cambridgeshire libraries, £2 for books from Suffolk libraries, and £7.50 for inter-library loans from other national libraries.
For many people, especially those on lower incomes, this came as a blow. Books can be expensive items, and this charge could discourage people from pursuing serious study courses, or simply from trying to widen their intellectual horizons by increasing access to a wider variety of literature. Local libraries in particular have a limited stock of books, and not everyone can have access to [Cambridge] Central Library, though even there the stock can be limited.
This decision could cause serious damage to the cultural life of local communities [...] What massive saving to public expenditure does the council expect to make from this penny-pinching measure? Or, is the real game plan to further reduce interest in our already limited service, thus preparing the ground for even more cuts in the future?
The county council must publicly respond to these points, though it would have been more seemly to talk to the public before, rather than after, the event.
Chair, Friends of Arbury Library
The recent letter from John Marais as the chair of Friends of Arbury Library (Cambridge News, 7 November) stated well the objections to the £1 library reservation charge introduced in June by Cambridgeshire County Council.
Readers should know that in response to enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act organized by the Cambridge People's Assembly, the council was unable to produce documentation of either the decision for the new charge, or the Community Impact Assessment it would normally undertake for new policies. An internal report uncovered by our enquiries projected that the charge would discourage two thirds of adult reservations.
We believe the mean, unfair, and corrosive character of the policy goes together with the confusion and secrecy of its origin. Our full report on the council’s FOI response ('No Light on the Library Reservation Fee') may be read online.
The impact of the charge will only be increased by another austerity measure, this one announced in the council's budget: it plans to cut our libraries' stock fund by hundreds of thousands of pounds. [We fully support the local writer Deborah Meyler's new campaign against the cut, and will attend her demonstration on Friday 11 November.]
Secretary, Cambridge People's Assembly Against Austerity
The letters above were printed in the Cambridge News on 7 and 12 November 2016. They are republished here with the kind permission of the newspaper and, for his letter, of John Marais. We have restored the last sentence of our secretary's letter.